The Relationship Between the Pieces of a Suit

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From-Russia-with-Love-Charcoal-Silk-Suit

Whether two pieces or three pieces, a suit is one garment and every piece of it must fit together. A suit should be tailored and styled to look unified and flow from one piece to the next. The current trends in “slim” or “skinny” suits have forgotten this important principle.

In a single-breasted suit, the jacket’s waist button—the middle button on a button three jacket, the top button on a button two jacket or the only button on a button one jacket—and the trousers’ waist are closely related and need to work together in harmony. They commonly do not work together on suits today due to a button stance that is too high and a trousers rise that is too low. The waist button on a single-breasted jacket—the button that fastens—needs to be placed close to where the waist of the trousers is. When the jacket is fastened, the only thing that shows below the jacket’s fastened button should be the trousers. No amount of shirt, tie or waistcoat should be seen below jacket’s fastened button. Anything otherwise looks sloppy. There should be no “triangle” to disrupt the suit’s unity. Cutting a jacket with closed quarters to make up for this common problem today often has the adverse effect of making the torso look bottom heavy, but in some situations they can work very well. Fastening the jacket’s bottom button to hide the “triangle” usually distorts the lines of the jacket because the standard single-breasted jacket isn’t cut to allow for the bottom button to fasten. This issue is unique to single-breasted suits and is not a problem on double-breasted suits because double-breasted suits are closed in the lower foreparts.

Notice how the waist button and trouser waist are in close proximity on Pierce Brosnan's suit in The World Is Not Enough. This unifies the suit into one garment.
Notice how the waist button and trouser waist are in close proximity on Pierce Brosnan’s suit in The World Is Not Enough. This unifies the suit into one garment.

Sean Connery’s tailor Anthony Sinclair recognised the relationship between the button stance of the jackets and the rise of the trousers. Of all of Sean Connery’s suits in the James Bond films, his suits in Dr. No have both the highest button stance and the highest trouser rise. When Sinclair moved the button stance down a little for the suits in From Russia with Love and subsequent films, he also pushed down the trouser rise the same amount so the relationship between the jacket and trousers stayed the same.

Dr-No-Grey-Suit-3

Read more about button stances >

Another disconnect occurs when there is not enough overlap of the jacket over the trousers. This problem is all too common with the current trend of cutting the suit jacket too short and the trouser rise too short. Fashionably cut suits today have anywhere from three to six inches less overlap of the jacket and trousers than would be found traditionally, and the traditional overlap is necessary to unify a suit. When this problem occurs, the “triangle” mentioned above is almost always present as well.

Spectre-Blue-Sharkskin-Suit
The trouser rise should be higher to prevent the bit of white shirt from showing between the jacket’s waist and the top of the trousers on Daniel Craig’s blue suit in Spectre. The button stance is at the correct height.

A waistcoat (or cummerbund in the case of black tie) can help unify a suit where the jacket and trousers don’t work well together, but it’s only a bandage. A suit must look like a unified garment without a waistcoat or cummerbund. In suits that only use the waistcoat as a unifying element, the waistcoat is usually too long and makes the torso look out of proportion with the rest of the body. A waistcoat that is too long won’t be able to follow the shape of the body properly either.

The biggest problem with the jacket and trousers not working together in suits today is because suit makers have been cutting their suit trousers like the casual trousers that men are more used to wearing today. Over the past decade and a half, the rise on men’s casual trousers has become lower and lower, moving from up on the waist to down on the hips. It didn’t take long for suit trousers to follow this. Many men today like a low rise in all of their trousers not only because they are used to it but also because they don’t want to look like their father, their grandfather or a nerd. But when one wears a suit and keeps his jacket on like a grown man should, trousers with a proper rise will never look too high. Nobody will see the top of the trousers because they will blend into the suit jacket.

Sean Connery shows in Diamonds Are Forever where suit trousers should sit on the waist.
Sean Connery shows in Diamonds Are Forever where suit trousers should sit on the waist.

Another reason why men today don’t want to wear trousers with a higher rise is because they believe that a higher rise necessitates a full cut and pleats (folds in the cloth), and they don’t want to wear pleats. But if one looks at the high rise trousers that men wore in the first couple decades of the 20th century or in the 1970s, mens trousers were worn high on the waist without pleats and had a very trim fit in the hips and thighs, as well as in the calves for early 20th century trousers. For men with small hips and a small seat, a flat front with one dart—a fold sewn into a garment that provides shape—on each side of the rear is all that is needed to fit the trousers out from the waist and over the hips. For most men, adding a second dart on each side of the rear helps fit flat front trousers over the hips comfortably without pleats. That second dart can instead be placed on the front for a better fit on some body types. And though currently unfashionable, pleats are not the devil, and their presence does not mean that the trousers must be baggy. Just look at Sean Connery’s trim-fitting forward-pleat suit trousers for a sleek example. Trousers can have today’s popular trim fit and still have a traditional rise that works best with a suit.

Connery in trim-fitting forward-pleat trousers in From Russia with Love
Connery in trim-fitting forward-pleat trousers in From Russia with Love

The rise isn’t the only element of the suit trousers that needs to work in harmony with the suit trousers. The fullness of the suit trousers also needs to complement the fullness of the jackets. Daniel Craig’s tight suit trousers in Skyfall and Spectre match the tight jackets. Sean Connery’s gently shaped suit jackets are in harmony with his tapered trousers, which are full at the thigh but narrow at the hem. Timothy Dalton’s baggy suit jackets in Licence to Kill are complemented by baggy triple-pleat suit trousers. These are just a few examples to illustrate the point.

If a full-cut suit jacket is paired with trousers that don’t fill out the bottom of the jacket or have too much taper, the man wearing this suit will look top-heavy. Likewise, if a close-fitting jacket is paired with full-cut trousers, the man wearing such a suit will look bottom heavy or weak. For unbalanced body types, a man may need more fullness in either the jacket or the trousers for better harmony between the pieces of his suit.

A balanced and unified suit in The World Is Not Enough
Pierce Brosnan wearing a balanced and unified suit in The World Is Not Enough

Most of James Bond’s suits follow the principles of pieces working together. Due to a low trouser rise, Daniel Craig’s Tom Ford suits in Quantum of SolaceSkyfall and Spectre face some of the problems mentioned in this article. Thankfully the problems aren’t as extreme as what many people wear today. The princples in this article apply not only to suits but also to odd jackets and trousers. It’s not only suits that should look unified.

Read more about fit and how the parts of a suit should work with the body >

20 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks Matt – a fine article as usual!
    You are addressing a crucial problem of today’s suits fashion and it would be desirable that (costume) designers care a bit more about those issues which actually belong to the basic knowledge of tailoring and should be known to them (a shame that they ignore it).

    Keep on the fine work!
    Best,
    Renard

  2. “Many men today like a low rise in all of their trousers not only because they are used to it but also because they don’t want to look like their father, their grandfather”…

    I want look as my father or my grandfather..ther suits were so elegant!

  3. Thank you for this article; the second Dr. No suit and the second Brioni suit flow beautifully – as opposed to the Spectre suit. You also said “Many men today like a low rise in all of their trousers not only because they are used to it but also because they don’t want to look like their father, their grandfather or a nerd.” There is a wealth of social commentary there – time was when young men aspired to model themselves after their fathers, whereas now looking like one’s father is a fate worse than death. Of course, some baby-boomer fathers are not exactly sartorial role models…

  4. Matt, could you perhaps write something about positioning the pockets on a suit? I think this is an interesting issue because it can contribute either to downplay height (hip pockets positioned a bit above the coat’s bottom button) resp. its contrary (on diminuitive men hip pockets positioned at the level of the bottom button or even below). Following this rule the pockets on Craig’s SPECTRE suit are positioned in a false manner (=too high) because he is not a very tall man. In comparison on the QoS suits it’s done correctly.

    Thanks,
    Renard

    • That’s an interesting idea. Craig’s pockets in Spectre may look higher than they are because they are slanted. If the pockets are too low they bring everything down, which isn’t so good on a short man either.

    • Renard,
      Sometimes pockets are positioned higher by tailors to give the visual impression that the wearer is slimmer, especially when hacking pockets are used, (i.e. pockets are usually cut and positioned via a Donlon wedge or belly cut. But in the case if using a pocket to slim a man its often raised off the waist position and sometimes slanted. Slanting a pocket allows it to fall gracefully across the hip.) So, the style of pocket and the positioning of the pocket is sometimes employed as tools to slim a man who may be a bit heavy. It’s not fool-proof, because as you noted, it can make a man appear shorter than he is.
      It’s interesting to see the comment that some designers design withouto repost to the principles of tailoring. That’s simply nessus many of them haven’t studied tailoring at all.

      • This is a very interesting idea, but a little difficult to hold in my mind’s-eye. I wonder if Mr Spaiser could use some image-manipulations or diagrams to demonstrate this if he vistits the issue in a later post…

  5. Hi Matt,
    I was wondering, how can know if the cloths of an Odd jacket and trousers match? Should i look the crease mainly?

    • Yes sure. I want To know how can I tell if two different Fabrics Go well together, one in the jacket and the other in the trousers. I have a poplin cotton odd jacket and i went to buy an odd trousers To use with it. I found a worsted woll one with a good color, but something didn’t seem right. I think it was the combination of cotton poplin and plain weave worsted woll. It was like they weren’t meant to be use together. My doubt is that. Do you think that was the problem? What do I have to look to know if two different Fabrics can work together in odd jackets and trousers?
      Thanks Matt!

  6. I think the position of Connery’s trousers in Diamonds Are Forever and Pierce Brosnan’s especially in The World Is Not Enough is the most flattering, not too high either. I have a couple of suits with lower rise trousers that I purchased in the last 12 months, but there still not as low as you can get these days. I’m fairly slim and don’t have a big waist at all, but I still think my suits with medium-high trousers still look a lot better on even me. If one is getting a bit thick around the waist; higher trousers will always look better, there was a reason Roger Moore wore higher rise trousers even into the mid-1980’s, they look very good sitting on his thicker waist. I’m hoping the trend was very low trousers goes away, it’s been hanging around since 2004 approx. Matt do you think trouser rises will start to rise in fashion again soon ?

    • I know they will come back up again. In the late 90s, women started wearing low-rise jeans by the early 2000s, high-waisted jeans were “mom jeans” and mostly women over 40 wore them. Then, high-waisted jeans came back for women, and low-rise jeans aren’t so common anymore for women. The same will happen for men. Men will soon realise that most of them don’t look good with a gut hanging out in front and their bum crack sticking out in back (which I unfortunately had to witness just the other night). Just like people now look back at flared 70s fashions or baggy 90s fashions with shame, the same will happen with current fashions.

  7. I hope it happens sooner rather then later. I see a lot of men wearing low rise jeans and even though there probably wearing a 32-34 waist they still have a bit of a paunch and it just looks terrible. I brought a pair of straight leg chinos recently, they have a bit of tapering but are not super slim and they have a medium-high rise with a flat front and they don’t look old fashioned in my opinion. My father and grandfather still wear pleated trousers and I don’t think they look that bad really, though my grandfather’s trousers could use a little more tapering though. Our Prime Minister here in Australia Malcolm Turnball wear Canali suits and his trousers have a low rise and higher button stance, they don’t look the best on a man of 61; he is fairly slim for his age too. I think one should dress for there age, don’t you Matt ?

    • I fail to see what’s so bad about pleats; unless a man has an absolutely flat stomach, flat-front pants accentuate the slightest paunch. Besides, pleats are more comfortable when one sits, and the trousers fall more naturally when they are pleated.

  8. Brilliant article Matt !

    The “triangle” is the curse of modern suits – and looks even worse when you see the tip of the tie peeping out into the triangle

  9. I think there’s an increasing naivety in regards to suit design. I think it stems from “fashion courses” and then those graduates moving to big companies and there training programs that just grind out designers and buyers. Art is often seen as a soft option (unfortunately) and fashion is seen as even softer, attracting weak candidates that lack real talent and often lack a “good eye” which is fundamental.

    Manufacturing abroad is probably affecting things as well, it’s very hard to convey “nuance” and “feelings” in a garment to a manufacturer in a different time zone via email when English is not his or her first language, not impossible but not easy.

    Finally I think we are just all about youth more than ever and this is reflected in the styles but let’s not forget, young people don’t know anything, they just think they do.

  10. A way that Roger tried to apply this principle to casualwear was in the Sage Green blouson, where he zipped up the jacket, loosely to make it look a bit more “unified”.
    Same could be done with double zippers to create the cutaway effect in the crotch area of a suit.

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